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Calm after a stormy election season for County Supervisors – Budget looms

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There was a perhaps surprising lack of drama and no public comment at Wednesday morning’s Warren County Board of Supervisors meeting one day after the November 5th Election. That election saw three new supervisors poised to be seated in the coming year, though only one of the incumbents in those three districts was running for re-election.

And that defeated incumbent, Tom Sayre of the Shenandoah District, was gracious in defeat, adding his congratulations to his opponent Walter Mabe, who along with South River District supervisor-elect Cheryl Cullers was present for the 9 a.m. start of the November 6 meeting.

During board reports following the Virginia Cooperative Extension Office report Happy Creek Supervisor Tony Carter, who along with the Fork District’s Archie Fox was not up for re-election this year, began the move toward a cooperative future by congratulating not only Tuesday’s winners, but all who participated in campaigning for office in this contentious election year. Each supervisor followed suit, as did County Administrator Doug Stanley who added his congratulations to Cullers, Mabe and North River District victor Delores Oates.

South River District Supervisor-elect Cheryl Cullers chats with Town Attorney Jason Ham following meeting as Shenandoah District Supervisor-elect Walter Mabe heads for the door in background. Royal Examiner Photo/Roger Bianchini. Video by Mark Williams, Royal Examiner.

 

Board Chairman and North River District Supervisor Dan Murray, who like South River’s Linda Glavis did not run for re-election this year, added a pointed observation on this year’s competitive electoral season. After “dittoing” Carter’s congratulatory remarks to all those who jumped into electoral politics this year Murray noted the strains personally and financially in running a political campaign, adding that not only those with the most votes were winners, but that “The County won because we have people who care” enough to get involved.

And while Murray as board chairman has not always seen eye to eye with some of the more boisterous members of the public who have chided County officials for their perceived collective lack of due diligence in oversight of the Economic Development Authority as what is now a $21.3 million financial fraud scandal developed in recent years, as has become his habit Murray opened Wednesday’s meeting with a call for a moment of silent prayer or reflection for healing, civility and cooperation in moving the County government forward out of the shadow of the EDA crisis.

A silent prayer for unity and cooperation into the future

 

Budget Season
Two interrelated items stood out in what was a very light first meeting of November agenda. Those were County Administrator Stanley’s summary of the coming Fiscal Year budgetary process and schedule and Human Resources Manager Jodi Saffelle’s presentation on a proposed contract for an Interim – it must be a contagious disease – Finance Director.

Stanley reported that what has grown to a six-month annual budgetary process is looming with notice to departments of budget requests slated to go out November 8 and replies due back by December 18. A vote on final FY 2021 budget approval is scheduled for April 21, 2020.

Stanley traced a process adding some level of additional scrutiny to departmental budget requests, noting, “This is not a complete departure from the way we have always budgeted as each Department Head and Constitutional Officer had to go through the justification during their meetings with the County Administrator and Finance Director with a final review by the Board of Supervisors.”

Of the so-called “Zero-based budget” process Stanley explained, “The forms require each department to present information regarding departmental goals, workload, and services provided … Simply put, we will request additional justification/detail for each and every line item expense as part of the budget submittal this year.”

Interim Finance Director
Saffelle then told the board that the County had gotten “minimal response” after six weeks of advertising for a replacement for departed Finance Director Andre Fletcher, whose resignation to move elsewhere took effect October 18. While Saffelle assured the supervisors that the Finance Department staff was experienced and doing an admirable job of managing the department’s daily operations, she noted that the absence of an experienced director “leaves a large void for which immediate assistance is required.”

An initial inquiry to the Virginia Municipal League/Virginia Association of Counties (VML/VACO) produced no available Finance Director candidates, Saffelle reported.

However a candidate was discovered through an inquiry to The Berkeley Group, LLC, a local government consulting firm. That candidate is Jim Allmendinger a retired CPA (Certified Public Accountant) who served as Director of Finance for Rockingham County for 13 year prior to his 2015 retirement; prior to that he had extensive private sector experience.

Saffelle reported that during his tenure in Rockingham County Allmendinger was responsible for a $300 million annual budget and 2500-plus County and Public School System employees. Comparably in 2018, Warren County had a $117 million budget and a total of 1273 County and Public School employees.

An hourly rate of $90 per hour with a daily mileage expense estimated at $78.88. Saffelle estimated Allmendinger would work three days a week, traveling from Rockingham County on those days. With Allmendinger hired as a contract employee the County will not be responsible for any tax deductions or other myriad benefits or insurance coverage payments.

While Saffelle told Royal Examiner there was no request that the option of transferring the contract to an individually-owned LLC be included to minimize the interim finance director’s tax responsibilities from the contract, she noted that the contract was with the Berkeley Group which is itself an LLC, as opposed to directly with Allmendinger.

The budgetary requirement for the hire was estimated at $15,120 to $30,240 for a two to four-month term dependent on the County’s future luck in attracting a permanent applicant for the position.

The FY2021 budget schedule was unanimously approved on a motion by Carter, seconded by Sayre; and the Interim Finance Director contract was unanimously approved on a motion by Fox, seconded by Glavis.

Walter Mabe chats with Board Clerk Emily Mounce at meeting’s conclusion.

 

Linda Glavis, right, personally congratulates her successor as South River Supervisor, Cheryl Cullers, following meeting.

 

Watch the meeting in this Royal Examiner video:

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What are you looking for in the next Town Manager for Front Royal?

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Baker Tilly, a leading local government executive search and advisory firm, is managing the search process for the next Town Manager for Front Royal, Virginia. The position is critical to the functioning of Town operations and the successful candidate will be responsible, under the guidance of the Mayor and the direction of Town Council, to manage Town operations as they collectively endeavor to enhance the quality of life for current and future residents of the Town. The application portal for those interested in applying can be found here, where a brochure is posted describing the organization, the position responsibilities and the leadership opportunities presented by the post. The brochure also describes the desired capabilities, qualifications and experience sought by Town Council for the job.

Additionally, the Town seeks any input that community stakeholders wish to contribute on the experience, management and leadership qualities they would like to see in the Front Royal’s next Town Manager, along with any other issues they may feel are relevant to the selection process. A survey to gather this input has been established online. Citizens and other stakeholders are encouraged by Council to respond to the survey by April 17th, 2020. Results will be tabulated and returned to the Town in order that it be available for candidate screening and selection. When published and returned to the Town, the survey report will be made available by the Town.

The link to the survey will be posted on the Town’s web page. The Mayor and Council encourage as many as possible to respond so that their perspectives may be registered.

For more information, please contact:

Steve Miner
Managing Director
Steve.Miner@bakertilly.com
804-240-9760

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Town will waive card-payment fees thru June, undecided on long-term options

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Above, welcome to virtual meeting world, March 30, 2020; below, Town IT and Communications Director Todd Jones (TJ) hooked council and staff in for about a half-hour, pre-7 p.m. meeting. – Don’t forget there are people signed in, listening to who you can’t see, boys, Jones reminded some chatty councilmen. – Royal Examiner Photos/Roger Bianchini – Royal Examiner Audio/Mike McCool

Life in municipal government COVID-19 pandemic virtual world continued Monday evening, March 30, as the Front Royal Town Council “gathered” by remote computer hook up for work session discussion of several matters.

Near the meeting’s end, Interim Town Manager and Town Director of pandemic Emergency Management Matt Tederick noted a third confirmed case of the COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease-2019) in Warren County. He also was joined by the mayor and council in thanking staff for helping the town government traverse the unfamiliar territory of continuing to provide services under state-recommended restrictions on public interactions. Those restrictions have led to the locking of municipal building doors to the public, funneling most citizen-government interactions to online, phone or drive-thru options.

Consequently, one of the four topics of conversation Monday was a lifting of the 2.35% fee on payment of Town utility or other fees by credit or debit card. After a somewhat laborious discussion of contractor “technical interface” issues not allowing direct withdrawals from customer bank accounts, which would bypass the need for the plastic money fee on utility account payments, the council agreed to waive the fee for the three-month balance of this fiscal year.

Since the issue is tied to an upswing in credit or debit card payments tied to the restrictions on public interactions and municipal building closures due to the COVID-19 emergency response, Town Attorney Doug Napier told the mayor and council that they simply had to authorize Tederick to move forward on waiving the card-payment fees as part of his duties as the Town’s COVID-19 Director of Emergency Management.

The meeting gets underway with agenda cover sheet displayed at left; box at right displays who is talking by initials, in this case, Interim Town Manager/Director of Emergency Services Matt Tederick (MT).

Staff is estimating a $60,000 revenue shortfall over the three-month period, twice the current average of $10,000 monthly in plastic transaction fees. The staff summary noted that the shortfall could possibly be offset by a “reduction of expenditures identified by staff and/or usage of the reserve fund balance.”

It was noted that one of the Town Finance Department’s drive-thru windows remains open for business at the rear of Town Hall, as an option on cash or check payments. And Councilwoman Lori Cockrell wondered if many citizens were aware of the option to set up automatic payments from their bank accounts.

Prior to the consensus to allow Tederick as director of emergency management to move forward with the fee waiver, Councilwoman Thompson worried over the suggestion that Town utility fees be raised in the coming fiscal year as another means of offsetting the revenue shortfall. That led to a discussion in which Town Finance Director B. J. Wilson expressed the opinion that the lost fees, as an “operating expense” of the Town, could not be covered by the use of fund balance reserves.

“We can’t go into reserves to cover an operating expense. So, we’d have to either reduce our expenses or raise our revenues to cover this. But we cannot dip into the reserves,” Wilson told the council.

“That doesn’t make any sense, credit card fees are an operating expense, isn’t it?” Councilman Jacob Meza offered in response.

“Yes, it’s an operating expense, so we have to cover it with our revenues,” Wilson repeated.

Queried further, Wilson explained that in the short term if the funds were not available from the utility departments’ revenues, reserves might have to be used to temporarily plug the gap.

“Well, let there be a shortfall, and cover it with the reserves,” Meza suggested, drawing some laughter from the council.

However, the finance director observed such a path could lead the Town into eventual trouble with state financial authorities.

“Obviously that would have to be an option for our current year if it comes down to it. But moving forward … our (utility) revenues are supposed to cover our (utility) operating expenses. And if we continually have a shortfall it could get us into a little trouble …” Wilson told the council’s cut, spend and reduce majority.

Bill Sealock – we promise he’s there – asks council to move past a discussion of long-term causes and solutions on costs and how the Town’s utility departments interface online with customers, to the business at hand – authorization for the Town Director of Emergency Services to waive credit-debit card fees for the next three months during the pandemic emergency response.

As the discussion progressed, Vice-Mayor Bill Sealock observed that in the short term the Town could cover the cost of the card fee waiver, but that long-term revenue/expenditure issues in the face of the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic response would have to be dealt with in the coming FY-2021 budget starting July 1.

“We can absorb $60k in our reserve. Of course, I also want to talk about saving any dollars in the 2019-2020 (budget) then move on to our new budget, because we’re going to see some significant shortfalls. So, I’m wondering why we’re spending so much time on this thing that you can’t resolve tonight. And why we’re not moving on … I hear everybody say they’re for it for the 90 days. So, we’re not going to resolve anything else about whether it comes out of reserves or we’re rescheduling some work,” Sealock told his colleagues.

“We can discuss this all night and we’re still not going to get anywhere,” Mayor Gene Tewalt concurred, moving council toward its instruction to Tederick to enact the card payment fee under his role as director of emergency management for the Town.

In lieu of videotaping a black computer screen with informational boxes popping up here and there, Royal Examiner audio-taped the work session for the later perusal of citizens not linked in to listen live.

Above, the cover page of the Gallagher company’s health insurance proposal the Town plans to adopt, discussion indicated not in the coming fiscal year, but July 1, 2021, at outset of FY-2022; below, an informational page summary of coming changes for the Town and its employees – not sure if Gallagher is recommending calling in the police for implementation.

In this linked audio recording, hear the above discussion, as well as council and staff’s visiting of how the pandemic response may impact the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding and plans for downtown façade and other improvements; a planned switch of the Town’s employees’ insurance package that would raise the deductible option from $250 to $500, but will not be enacted until FY-2022 after the changes have been fully explained to staff, and evolving budget variables in the current pandemic “non-essential” business closures environment as council moves forward with its locked-in half-cent real estate tax decrease in place for FY-2021.

Here’s the audio from the March 30 Work Session:

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‘Don’t get excited’ – but don’t be complacent: Town, County join forces with citizens to stave off COVID-19 threat

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The COVID-19 Emergency Management team has first of weekly community briefings. Royal Examiner Photos/Roger Bianchini – Royal Examiner Video/Mark Williams – Royal Examiner Audio/Mike McCool

 

At 4 p.m. Thursday afternoon County and Town representatives on the COVID-19 Coronavirus Emergency Management team held a status-report briefing on what they are doing and are preparing to do as the nation, state and community move into the third month of the worldwide pandemic’s arrival on U.S. shores.

And on the heels of the first confirmed case of COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease 2019) in Warren County, that message was stay calm, use common sense in maintaining recommended social distancing and cleanliness, reference reliable municipal and other governmental and health agency websites for updated information, while taking social media pronouncements with a cautionary grain of salt – but if you develop respiratory, cold or flu symptoms during the pandemic emergency reach out to your primary care physician or the public health establishment for assistance.

Another important message was that despite social distancing restrictions on direct public access to the Front Royal Town Hall and Warren County Government Center, your town and county government services are there for you by alternate means, including phone and online contacts.

“Don’t get that excited – make sure you follow the rules that are sent over by the governor; make sure you follow those set forth by the County, as well as the Town of Front Royal … the only way we can stop the spread of this virus is to stay away from one another, stay away from places where you come into contact with people. And hopefully, by doing these things that we’ve been asked to do, we can cut down on the cases here in Front Royal and Warren County,” Mayor Eugene Tewalt said in opening the briefing.

Mayor Eugene Tewalt left and County Board Chair Walt Mabe opened the first of weekly COVID-19 Emergency Management public briefings.

 

Picking up on the theme of the importance of public cooperation in Warren County and Front Royal’s collective response, County Board Chairman Walter Mabe added, “I can only tell you that our county can only be as prepared as its citizenry is prepared. We are going through a crisis that probably nobody in this county has been through before. There are things happening every day and the situation is evolving every day. And being able to make it better, we have to listen to the folks that are trying to give you the information that is going to make it better for you.”

It was noted that even for those younger, healthier and less susceptible to serious symptoms from COVID-19, stopping the spread locally, as well as statewide or nationally, can be crucial to the more vulnerable citizens age and health-wise, including those you or someone you know, loves.

Mabe also noted that contrary to public statements from some optimists, “There is no currently approved vaccine, there’s no magic pill to make this thing go away – it’s all going to be up to the citizenry.”

County Commonwealth’s Attorney John Bell, right (without sunglasses), stops following the briefing’s adjournment to peruse one citizen, Gary Kushner’s, opinion – time will tell, nationally, statewide and locally.

In addition to the mayor and board of supervisors chairman, included in the COVID-19 Emergency Management briefing on the first of weekly Thursday briefings for the duration of the threat from the newest Coronavirus first identified in the Hunan Province of China three months ago, were County Emergency Services Chief Richard Mabie, County COVID-19 Emergency Manager Rick Farrall, Sheriff Mark Butler, Town Police Chief Kahle Magalis, County Administrator Doug Stanley, Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick and County Commonwealth Attorney John Bell.

The latter addressed legal aspects of enforcement of directives from the state government as to public behavior: Education; formal warnings on public behavioral directives; issuing of misdemeanor citations that could carry up to $2500 fines and a year in jail in worst-case scenarios; before arrests are contemplated for refusal to follow legally binding governmental directives, is the planned order of law enforcement response, Bell said. He added that an overstepping of police or governmental authority was not the goal, rather public safety and common-sense compliance to safeguard this community’s population, especially its most vulnerable citizens was.

A special nod was given by several present as to the degree of cooperation that has developed between the County and Town sides of the joint emergency declarations, particularly in the emergency services and law enforcement sectors.

Above, as County COVID-19 Emergency Manager Rick Farrall listens, County Administrator Doug Stanley tells citizens that community leadership is prepared to minimize the challenge presented by the COVID-19 pandemic; below, Sheriff Butler and Chief Magalis illustrate the level of County-Town cooperation in place to deal with the Coronavirus threat.

 

“Yes, the Coronavirus pandemic is unusual – it’s unusual in the duration that we’re potentially facing. But I want the public to know that your community leadership is prepared to meet this head on,” County Administrator Stanley said, referencing annual emergency training sessions involving multiple agencies. “We will be ready for what we can do to arrest the impact on our community.”
Stanley continued to note the role that non-profit and other organizations aimed at public sector assistance can play.

County Board Chair Mabe pointed to the county public school system’s free lunch distribution program that has continued beyond the school closings. Starting out at feeding 61 students out of meals prepared at E/ Wilson Morrison at the outset of the pandemic emergency management school closings, Mabe noted that number had steadily climbed to 125, 250 and over 350.

However, that is just the start, Mabe noted, as the public-school administration is prepared to utilize it school bus system to distribute a thousand and eventually 2500 or more free lunches out to its K-12 student base.

“We have a lot of experience in this room,” Mayor Tewalt observed later, adding, “as mayor I want to encourage the public in Front Royal, especially our citizens, to listen to what’s been said here this evening. It’s important that you pay attention to these things. And if you pay attention to these things it may not be near as bad as we may think it’s going to get.”

Watch the entire COVID-19 Emergency Management briefing in this exclusive Royal Examiner video:

Front Royal joins County in declaring COVID-19 Emergency

County declares ‘Local Emergency’ as State ramps up pandemic response

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Mayor gives emergency response update

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Town of Front Royal Mayor Eugene Tewalt stopped by Royal Examiner’s studio and provided us with an update report on the emergency response process underway.

Watch this exclusive Royal Examiner video and get the latest update information:

The Mayor also shared this release with us:

As a community, we have entered uncharted territory that is changing rapidly due to the COVID-19 virus. Both the Town and County governments have been meeting daily to discuss the myriad issues pertaining to the COVID-19 virus and our community. Yesterday, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam issued an executive order that goes into effect at midnight tonight that closes or modifies the operation of businesses not considered “essential”. This order seeks to contain, control, and prevent infections and unnecessary risks to our citizens.

The Front Royal Police Department, Warren County Sheriff’s Office, Town of Front Royal and County of Warren governments, Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney, Warren County Fire & Rescue, Emergency Management, and Valley Health have been working tirelessly to keep our citizens as safe as possible. Our community must adhere to the restrictions put in place to help with this process. The Governor’s emergency powers are derived from VA code 44-146.15. The Governor’s Executive Order Number Fifty-Three (Executive Order #53) describes in detail businesses considered essential, non-essential, or otherwise exempt to closing with restrictions. Gatherings of more than ten people are prohibited rather than simply discouraged. The Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney, Warren County Sheriff’s Office, and Front Royal Police Department have coordinated on this issue. We intend to enforce this order through warnings, education, and collaboration with our business partners to comply; however, non-compliance could result in a summons for a Class 1 misdemeanor.

We are calling on all of our friends and neighbors in the Town of Front Royal and Warren County to do their part in this fight. Ask yourself if you have an absolute need to run that errand or leave your safe space or if you want to leave because you are tired of being cooped up. Each time you encounter someone, you run the risk of becoming infected.

In the best interest of our community, we urge you to adhere to Governor Ralph Northam’s most recent executive order. We are collaborating with our local businesses and civic groups to help those that are at high risk or may not have the resources to get essential products or services. We are streamlining this coordinated effort to keep unnecessary risk to a minimum.

We thank you as a community for doing your part to protect our local medical staff, first responders, grocery and pharmacy personnel, and keeping other essential employees healthy and safe to ensure our community service providers remain fully staffed.

Related Story:

Statement from Mayor Tewalt

A letter to the citizens of Warren County and the Town of Front Royal

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The new pandemic response reality – closed, open governmental meetings

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But the governor said law enforcement, media, and governmental functions were immune, if not to COVID-19, at least to the public gathering ban – why not go for 3 out of 3 this morning? – your humble reporter argued. Royal Examiner Photos/Roger Bianchini – Royal Examiner Video & stills/Mark Williams

After a brief debate with the County powers that be over media access to Tuesday morning’s (March 24) Warren County Board of Supervisors Special Meeting from which the public was barred – and we thank County Board Chairman Walter Mabe for his decision to allow the Royal Examiner’s reporting and camera presence despite a staff legal belief that a March 20th Attorney General’s letter/opinion would allow the exclusion of media in what the governor has defined as an emergency or disaster situation related to the potential spread of COVID-19 in Virginia – we settled in to view the three-pronged meeting.

Those prongs were:

1 – adoption of an ordinance and authorizing resolution related to the conduct of the county government during the statewide and local COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease 2019) emergency declarations;

2 – approval of a salary of $77,456.37 for a new Lieutenant’s position in the Warren County Sheriff’s Office who will assist in regaining accreditation for the department, as well as having investigations and internal affairs responsibilities; and

3 – a detailed review of cuts and additions to the Fiscal Year 2021 budget and authorization to advertise a public hearing on the budget and associated tax rates.

Sheriff Butler makes his case for a new employee geared to regaining departmental accreditation, a move that would help future grant applications he pointed out. Earlier, media made a case for a ‘get out of jail free’ card on the outside chance the meeting-access discussion went south.

The board unanimously approved all matters before it, including the advertisement of a flat tax rate tied to the FY 2021 budget. However, as it did prior to the meeting regarding media access and state FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) law regarding media attendance at the meeting which, as noted above, was closed to the public other than by live video feed, the specter of the spread of COVID-19 and impacts on the local economy of prohibitions on “non-essential” local business activity and limits of 10 people in any one public gathering space, played heavily into the budget discussion led by County Administrator Doug Stanley.

“There is a lot of uncertainty. But I think we as a County can be flexible to respond to that,” Stanley told his board of dealing with unknown variables the COVID-19 pandemic and governmental responses to it, might bring.

“Can we have before our next meeting, depending on where the Coronavirus is, a work session to discuss our thoughts on what we need to look at and budget?” South River Supervisor Cheryl Cullers asked of potential impacts on County revenue generation, including sales, meals and lodging taxes and other peripheral variables that might come into play.

Above, the Warren Supervisors played to an empty house, save staff shuttled in and out, and media representatives; below, worrisome to County and Town officials this budget season are empty downtown streets and closed businesses.

Stanley suggested tacking that discussion onto the scheduled morning meeting of the following week – a meeting he observed could be held by teleconference. The budget and tax rate public hearings are scheduled for April 14, hopefully after some public gathering restrictions are lifted.

At the conclusion of his multi-faceted FY 2021 budget presentation that included comparisons to the County’s position and reactions to the 2008 housing market collapse and consequent recession, Stanley thanked his five-member board for all being present physically for it.

“As I told the chairman, it’s hard for me to run through all this stuff (by remote electronic hook up) – it’s hard to walk through that. It’s good to do it in person at least once, it makes it a little bit easier,” the county administrator observed budget complexities presented at an electronic distance.

Above, the county administrator presents budget variables to a properly socially-distanced board; and below, to Royal Examiner’s camera as county staff banished to adjacent rooms to keep the meeting room occupancy at 10, wait their turn.

 

Our videographer Mark Williams, hand-held the camera for the hour and a half meeting. Our tripod was left in the vehicle due to the uncertainty of entering the meeting space. Our apologies for the shakiness of the video in places.

 

Of the additional complexity of facing future crucial budget meetings electronically and without direct public, and perhaps media, in-person attendance, Stanley said, “Obviously we want to make sure the public is with us throughout this process. It’s not something any of us have gone through before. And as Jason (Acting County Attorney Jason Ham) said, we are going to try and make every accommodation that we can to put the information out there …”

See the information put out there the morning of March 24, 2020, on pandemic preparedness, the budget, and the new sheriff’s office position, not to mention portions of this reporter’s pre-meeting discussion with County officials about media access as a defined essential service, in this, fought for and graciously granted exclusive Royal Examiner public meeting video:

 

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Front Royal joins County in declaring COVID-19 Emergency

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Council social distancing – it wasn’t clear if Councilmen Gillespie and Meza were present by remote hook up due to self-quarantine or to keep the suggested gathering number under 10. Royal Examiner Photos/Roger Bianchini – Royal Examiner Video/Mark Williams

Monday evening, March 23, the Front Royal Town Council met, albeit briefly, “to depart from the regular ‘Order of Business’” – don’t blink or you’ll miss the linked Royal Examiner video.

That departure was first, a unanimous vote – Gillespie and Meza by remote phone connection, though Meza late enough to initially seem to be a “no” vote – to depart from its scheduled agenda, which had included a binding second vote of approval of setting of tax rates for Fiscal Year 2021; and then approval by a 5-1 vote, Thompson dissenting, to declare “a COVID-19 Emergency Ordinance” effective immediately, and concurrently name Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick the Town’s Director of Emergency Management.

Of course, you wouldn’t have known that the interim town manager was council’s appointed pandemic emergency manager unless you perused the three-page, 28-paragraph (16 consecutive beginning with the word “Whereas”) “COVID-19 Emergency Ordinance” approved on a much briefer motion offered by Vice-Mayor Bill Sealock, seconded by Chris Holloway.

Not until paragraph 19 of the emergency ordinance is it noted that council, “hereby appoints the Town Manager, or in the absence of a town manager, the Interim Town Manager, as Director of Emergency Management for the Town, which is currently Matthew A. Tederick, Interim Town Manager.”

Above, Chief Magalis, flanked by the socially-distanced interim town manager, oversees an empty house as the meeting was about to convene; below, one citizen, former councilman, and former supervisor’s arrival took the number present, including Royal Examiner’s two-pronged media presence, from 10 to 11 – don’t tell the governor.

 

Having reviewed the Town Charter earlier in the day and noting that Chapter Two states that, “In a time of public danger or emergency, he (the mayor) may take command of the police, maintain order and enforce the law … subject to review by the council,” after the meeting’s adjournment we asked Mayor Gene Tewalt about Tederick’s appointment to fill that role.

“The charter does specify that the mayor does have the prerogative if there is an emergency. But this is so huge; there is so much going on that there is no way in the world I could take care of all the information. I’d have to be down here 24 x 7 to answer questions and telephone calls; whatever. Matt is here; Matt’s present during the day and during the evening hours. So, no other one is logical that’s here that could cover it other than Matt,” Tewalt observed.

“And it’s logical that if something happens to Matt, the mayor will fall in. And if something happens to the mayor, I’ll fall in,” Vice-Mayor Sealock added with a military perspective of the “next man standing” in crisis situations.

As for her dissenting vote, Letasha Thompson said it was solely based on Tederick’s lack of experience in emergency management, coupled with the workload, particularly in budget season, the interim town manager already has on his plate.

“As we got into this emergency situation, from my research as to what other municipalities were doing … I feel like it should be someone with, at least some training in emergency management, maybe not the experience – because how often do we have this kind of emergency? But at least have the education behind it. And I think Matt’s plate is beyond full at this moment, and then to have this added is just overload at this point.”

Letasha Thompson deadpans for the camera prior to meeting’s adjournment – it’s just allergies, I swear, Councilwoman …

The Emergency Director’s perspective
After the meeting, we contacted Tederick by phone and he explained his perspective on the assignment, noting that he will not be working alone, benefitting from not only the County Emergency Management team in place but a new hand he has called out of retirement, perhaps easing Thompson’s concerns to a point.

Tederick noted that with the pandemic response situation escalating at all levels across the nation, including last week’s Warren County Emergency Declaration, he had reached out to former Interim Front Royal Police Chief and Warren County Sheriff’s Office Major Bruce Hite for help.

“He’s a tremendous asset. And we’re fortunate to have money in the budget to pay for his services,” the interim town manager said of budget cuts he had made elsewhere in the existing Town budget. Tederick said Hite was hired out of the Town Administrative Office last week and would be paid out of the General Fund at a salary of $6,000 per month.

“He’s coordinating with the County Emergency Management team and the Town Police Department … Our next step is to facilitate connection with the County Emergency Services Plan because we fall under that. We had a good meeting with those involved on all levels – I feel much better today than I did yesterday,” Tederick said of pulling together help on a variety of issues he said have been keeping him up at night.

“I lay awake at night worrying that our wastewater treatment or water service won’t be able to operate up to capacity. The thing is to keep things functioning as this progresses. I’m committed to getting critical services delivered to citizens. We are cross-training Town personnel and have ID’ed backup personnel,” Tederick said of the Town looking ahead were the COVID-19 pandemic medical crisis to reach Warren County and Front Royal.

Should ‘something happen’ – County help is just a call away.

As a small-government conservative, Tederick expressed some frustration that Monday’s emergency declaration and his appointment were legally necessary to allow the Town to proceed under FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) guidelines as restrictions on public gatherings are suggested or mandated, and public access to governmental meetings may become limited. Front Royal and Warren County’s Local Emergency Declarations are not being undertaken in a vacuum.

As previously reported by Royal Examiner, according to Governor Ralph Northam’s Executive Order 53, beginning at 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday, March 24, 2020, all gatherings of more than 10 people are banned statewide, certain non-essential businesses are ordered closed, and all K-12 schools are closed for the remainder of the school year. However, these prohibitions do not include gatherings that involve the provision of health care or medical services, access to essential services like food banks for low-income residents; operations of the media, law enforcement agencies, or operations of government.

“Unfortunately, I understand why – it’s a very fluid environment we’re in,” Tederick said, adding, “I was advised by legal counsel that we needed the Emergency Declaration and needed an Emergency Manager or whatever it’s called, to facilitate electronic meetings. This meeting was 99% to allow that to happen.”

What “that” is, he explained, is facilitating live remote participation by, not only council members as Gary Gillespie and Jacob Meza were hooked up by Monday night, but citizens wanting to address various agenda or other issues while watching live streaming of meetings or work sessions if public attendance becomes impossible due to the Covid-19 health crisis.

It’s keeping us apart – but maybe technology can fix that, kind of …

“I can’t believe it takes an ordinance to accomplish due to FOIA,” Tederick offered, observing, “It is frustrating, these Draconian FOIA laws in a state of emergency. I have no problem with citizens calling in remotely,” Tederick said; though some citizens on the technological downside might not have problems with the concept, as much as they might in actually utilizing the technology to achieve such remote participation.

“We’re all in uncharted territory – no one planned for this; no one anticipated this. I have direction from council to move forward in any way humanly possible,” Front Royal’s new Director of Emergency Management observed of life under the threat of the spread of the COVID-19 Coronavirus. It is a threat declared a worldwide health pandemic by the World Health Organization.

Statistical Update
As of noon Monday, the CDC (Center for Disease Control) reported 33,404 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S., as well as 400 deaths. Of those 33,404 confirmed cases, the source of exposure remains unknown or “under investigation” in 32,416 of them.

In Virginia, including the first confirmed case – or is it two? – in the six-municipality Lord Fairfax Health District Warren County is in, as of Monday the Virginia Department of Health counted 254 cases, with six deaths and 38 hospitalizations. For some perspective on case statistics, of Virginia’s population of 8.62 million, 3,697 people have been tested for COVID-19 according to VDH.

The lack of availability of testing kits has been a sore point for health officials nationwide since COVID-19 was first identified here in mid-January. Six weeks later on February 29, the CDC reported 15 confirmed cases in the U.S., an Atlantic Magazine article recently noted.

Worldwide as of March 23, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) there were 338,307 confirmed cases and 14,602 deaths attributed to COVID-19. Of those 338,307 known cases, 232,378 were confirmed in the last 15 days.

In Europe, Italy and Spain have been particularly hard hit. Early Monday, Italy had 5,476 deaths counted out of 59,138 confirmed cases, 53,255 of those cases being counted in the past 15 days. However, a later report from Al Jazeera Monday evening had Italy’s death toll up to 6,077 and its confirmed cases at 63,928. Italy’s highest single-day death count was 793 on Saturday, March 21. Spain has counted 1,720 deaths out of 28,572 cases, with 28,142 of those cases verified in the past 15 days.

And so it goes in the fourth month since COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease-2019) was identified as a new strain of Coronavirus on the move in the Hunan Province of China in December 2019, as the final year of the second decade of the 21st century approached.

See the brief meeting declaring Front Royal in a COVID-19 emergency state – don’t blink – in this Royal Examiner video:

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Upcoming Events

Mar
31
Tue
4:30 pm Novel Ideas @ Samuels Public Library
Novel Ideas @ Samuels Public Library
Mar 31 @ 4:30 pm – 5:30 pm
Novel Ideas @ Samuels Public Library
Children will explore popular books and book series through S.T.E.M. activities, games, food, and more! Tuesday, March 17 –  Children will explore popular books and book series through S.T.E.M. activities, games, food, and more! This[...]
Apr
1
Wed
10:15 am Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
Apr 1 @ 10:15 am – 12:00 pm
Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
10:15 Toddler story time | 11:00 Preschool story time Wednesday, March 18 and Thursday, March 19: Our stories, songs, and craft this week will be about friends! Come to story time and see your friends,[...]
Apr
2
Thu
10:15 am Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
Apr 2 @ 10:15 am – 12:00 pm
Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
10:15 Toddler story time | 11:00 Preschool story time Wednesday, March 18 and Thursday, March 19: Our stories, songs, and craft this week will be about friends! Come to story time and see your friends,[...]
6:00 pm FRCS Spring Musical: Thoroughly ... @ Front Royal Christian School
FRCS Spring Musical: Thoroughly ... @ Front Royal Christian School
Apr 2 @ 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm
FRCS Spring Musical: Thoroughly Modern Millie @ Front Royal Christian School
3 exciting shows: APRIL 2 – 6pm, April 3 – 7pm, April 4 – 6pm. Bring the family! Filled with fun flappers and a villainess that audiences will love to hate, Thoroughly Modern Millie JR.[...]
Apr
3
Fri
6:00 pm Fire Pit Fridays @ Shenandoah Valley Golf Club
Fire Pit Fridays @ Shenandoah Valley Golf Club
Apr 3 @ 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Fire Pit Fridays @ Shenandoah Valley Golf Club
6:00 pm FRCS Spring Musical: Thoroughly ... @ Front Royal Christian School
FRCS Spring Musical: Thoroughly ... @ Front Royal Christian School
Apr 3 @ 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm
FRCS Spring Musical: Thoroughly Modern Millie @ Front Royal Christian School
3 exciting shows: APRIL 2 – 6pm, April 3 – 7pm, April 4 – 6pm. Bring the family! Filled with fun flappers and a villainess that audiences will love to hate, Thoroughly Modern Millie JR.[...]
Apr
4
Sat
8:00 am Troop 53 Annual Mulch Sale @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire and Rescue
Troop 53 Annual Mulch Sale @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire and Rescue
Apr 4 @ 8:00 am – 1:00 pm
Troop 53 Annual Mulch Sale @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire and Rescue
Spring is approaching, and Troop 53 is preparing for their annual mulch fundraiser. The funds raised will help support troop activities and send our Boy Scouts to summer camp, where they learn valuable skills in[...]
6:00 pm FRCS Spring Musical: Thoroughly ... @ Front Royal Christian School
FRCS Spring Musical: Thoroughly ... @ Front Royal Christian School
Apr 4 @ 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm
FRCS Spring Musical: Thoroughly Modern Millie @ Front Royal Christian School
3 exciting shows: APRIL 2 – 6pm, April 3 – 7pm, April 4 – 6pm. Bring the family! Filled with fun flappers and a villainess that audiences will love to hate, Thoroughly Modern Millie JR.[...]
Apr
7
Tue
10:00 am Focus on Health Employment & Edu... @ LFCC | Science and Health Professions Building
Focus on Health Employment & Edu... @ LFCC | Science and Health Professions Building
Apr 7 @ 10:00 am – 5:00 pm
Focus on Health Employment & Education Fair @ LFCC | Science and Health Professions Building
Two sessions: 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. – 5 p.m. Different vendors at each session. Held in the Science and Health Professions Building at LFCC’s Middletown Campus. Contact Taylor Luther for more[...]
4:30 pm Novel Ideas @ Samuels Public Library
Novel Ideas @ Samuels Public Library
Apr 7 @ 4:30 pm – 5:30 pm
Novel Ideas @ Samuels Public Library
Children will explore popular books and book series through S.T.E.M. activities, games, food, and more! Tuesday, March 17 –  Children will explore popular books and book series through S.T.E.M. activities, games, food, and more! This[...]